At the age of fourteen a young Australian girl was asked by the headmaster of her school to come into his office, and like most kids who get asked to see the headmaster Nicole Gibson was expecting something bad. A telling-off of some form or fashion, and at that time there was a lot of shame and hurt that she was carrying.
The evidence for that hurt was in her weight, or the lack of it. Nicole at that time was in the middle of a struggle with anorexia. This is a common situation with many young women.
Studies show that in a lifetime about 4% of females will suffer from anorexia; with a higher incidence in the under 15 age group.
When I interviewed her I asked her about some of the things that helped her overcome her eating disorder. That’s when she told me about her ‘guardian angel’.
All those years ago she walked nervously into the headmaster’s office and dragged a chair into one corner of the room and shrank into it. Sitting with knees up and head down she waited for the inevitable. Only the inevitable took a long time coming and was totally unexpected.
Nicole said how the headmaster, who was an unassuming Australian alpha male, simply held the silence for what seemed an eternity, and with each passing moment the sense of being overwhelmed and being ashamed grew and grew.
When he finally spoke his deep voice simply said, “Nicole, I’m not here to tell you that there’s anything wrong with what you are going through. I just want you to know you are not alone.”
Nicole told me of sitting that day in the office separated by the big desk which seemed like a fence – behind her knees she started to cry, and as she did it felt safe to cry and then more importantly, safe to feel. What the headmaster did for her was to normalise her pain.
The conversation continued as the headmaster asked her:
“Do you know what I like doing after school is over for the day?
My favourite thing?
I like to have a beer to unwind.”
With those words he reached across his desk for a piece of paper and started to scribble on it. He then signed it.
All the while the teenage girl looked suspiciously onwards.
He wrote: ‘I will not have another beer until you get to your target weight. Then signing the paper he stuck it onto the wall next to his desk so that it was in plain view of anyone who came into the office.
WHY, WHY, WHY would this man do this for me? Why was he giving up something he loved, doing this for me?
Nicole said afterwards, that act and that man was her source of strength, her ‘guardian angel’.
In essence he had said, I believe in you. He demonstrated care and love that was unconditional.
One of the challenges of compassion or love in action is taking an action when you know there is only a slim chance of success.
A lot of the time there is a struggle in giving out when the outcome is not clear. How do I know this will work?
The headmaster could have sat down and worked out the odds. Logically.
In this man’s case you could rightly ask, will he ever have a beer again in his life?
What were the odds of this teenage girl succeeding in gaining weight?
How did he know that she would want to try to do what she said ?
How would he know that she would be able to battle through to the goal and not give up?
He obviously didn’t have any answers to these and other questions.
So the chances of success of what he’d done by signing that agreement was unknowable. Probably slim.
When you add to the fact that what he had committed to was not hidden but pinned on his wall for anyone to see and comment on its meaning went up another level.
Yet, he committed to doing a compassion-filled action. Based on love.
Can love turn a situation around? Can it really make a difference?
It depends on what you mean by love.
In Christian text the word love has a number of meanings:
The root of one is from the Greek – Agape.
Agape love is a love that is unconditional.
It is based on the giver choosing to give.
It is based on the giver choosing to give, doing an action whatever the cost.
It is choosing to do something, to give something not based on circumstance.
It is choosing to count the cost to me, the giver, without knowing how this will turn out.
Will it make me happy? Of course not, it’s giving up something I love.
Maybe the answer lies in: I am giving up something I love for someone I love?
In this case maybe there’s an element of truth in that, but there were loads of kids in that school.
Compassion is like legs to the thought.
It’s the wheels to a car.
It’s the email that is sent, not just the thought of sending.
It’s the difference between mentally saying you are in my thoughts and prayers vs. calling to say it.
Compassion is love in action. True.
What stops us giving at times is not being sure that something will work. Not being sure of a return on investment, be that time, energy or money.
Choosing agape is not a guarantee of anything .
It’s not a guarantee of getting it right or saying the right thing.
It’s not a guarantee of any kind of success.
Agape is based not on logic but on spirit. The inner knowing that this is the right course of action. Knowing that it will cost me something.
In this case the headmaster gave up one of his pleasures in life for an unknown period of time for a teenager of whom he did not ask for a two-way contract. That makes no sense at all.
The headmaster ‘s commitment is one of, I will do an action; and invite, not command you to respond.
I do this because I believe in you.
Love can change the world if we choose to act on it. Love can change the life of the recipient. Love can change the person of the giver.
Choose love from the heart, count the sacrifice as worth it if you must – then do it.
For Nicole this event in her life didn’t cause an instantaneous change in her. The weight didn’t magically disappear. I guess she remained hypervigilant for a long time afterwards. But that day prevented her from cheating when she was tempted . It gave her courage in the journey to health.
That day love was lent to her until she was strong enough to love herself back to health.
Love wins when we choose to give love.
It may not be all there is to it but:
Love is enough.